Having a baby in the UK
If you're pregnant in the UK and looking to give birth, here's a guide to having a baby in the UK from prenatal care to maternity leave.
Giving birth in a foreign country may seem scary when you’re unfamiliar with how it works and what you’re meant to do. Here's a guideline to having a baby in the UK to help you be more prepared, from prenatal care to UK maternity leave.
Prenatal care in the UK
Once you’ve found out that you are pregnant, the first step is to make an appointment at your General Practitioner or with a midwife as soon as possible so that you can organise the prenatal care and start getting the appropriate healthcare for your needs.
NHS care is free if you’re working and paying national insurance contributions in the UK; or if your husband is working in the UK. You can also choose to have your baby in a private hospital, but the costs will then be borne by you.
At your first appointment, your GP or the midwife will make sure you get all the information you might need about the best lifestyle for you and your baby, your nutrition, vitamin supplements and so on. They will also ask about your health history, if you or someone in your family has any conditions that might lead to a risky pregnancy or delivery, and any other relevant factors.
The booking appointment occurs between your 8th and 12th week. It is a longer appointment where you’ll usually see your midwife but sometimes a doctor will be there too. You might get an ultrasound and receive information on the different classes you can attend (e.g. breastfeeding or exercises), they will make sure to get a clear picture of your pregnancy and will help you organise it so as to avoid any unnecessary stress. Feel free to ask all the questions you have; they will be happy to help you decide what is the best for you and your baby.
Your details will be entered in your record and will be updated by the midwife at each additional appointment. It is important to keep this record safe as it will be needed on the day of your delivery.
Later appointments will usually occur every six weeks, though if you’re in good health and your pregnancy is uncomplicated, the appointments might be more widely spaced.
These will be shorter encounters, making sure you and your baby are in good health, and that the foetus is developing normally.
You can choose from several different ways of delivering your baby – having a home birth, at the midwifery unit, the hospital or the community unit.
At your arrival at the hospital or the midwifery unit, you will show your notes and check in, before being accompanied to the labour unit, where you’ll change into hospital clothes and be checked and questioned by a midwife to determine the stage you are at. Before going to the hospital you might be asked whether the contractions are strong and regular, about five minutes apart and lasting for about a minute.
The delivery rooms are homier these days than in the past and you’ll often find different chairs and beanbags for you to move around to during labour. Some units also have a bath or shower available to make you feel more comfortable. Some locations have birthing pools available that you can use if your labour doesn’t show any complications, but you will need to book well in advance. On that note, you can visit the maternity unit during your pregnancy. This will help you to prepare and know what happens on the big day.
In the UK there is a wide variety of pain relief options, including some that are not offered in other European countries. You can have access to hydrotherapy (being in the water), gas and air, intramuscular painkiller injections, TENS and epidural anesthesia. Hospitals also often allow alternative methods of pain relief, although you will need to organise these yourself. If you’re delivering your baby at the hospital you might go home directly with your baby, though the first few days you will certainly be very tired and emotional and you might want to rest in the postnatal ward with other mums and babies.
If it’s your first baby, it might be a bit overwhelming. The midwives are there to help you and make sure you have all the information you need to peacefully go home with your newborn. Bear in mind that by law, if you are travelling home by car you must have an appropriate child seat fitted.
Even though women in the UK are released early after the birth, the midwife will visit the newborn and mum every two days in the first 10 days (up to 28 if they think it is appropriate) to make sure the baby is putting on weight and the mum is recovering properly from labour. Two weeks after birth, a health adviser will start following the baby’s progress until its fifth year.
The postnatal check-up occurs after six weeks and can be arranged at the hospital or at your General Practitioner, where they will make sure that you and your baby are in good health.
Maternity and paternity leave in the UK
If you have been working in the UK for at least 26 weeks before getting pregnant, you will be eligible for maternity leave. You can take up to 52 weeks although it is only compulsory to take 2 weeks (or 4 if you work in a factory). Your employment rights are protected during your leave, but your employer might require you to give a date of return.
If the father is an employee, he is allowed to take one to two weeks of ordinary paternity leave. He can ask for up to 24 additional weeks, but only if the child’s mother has returned to work.
Paternity leave must start and end within 56 days of the baby’s arrival.
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